Eleanor Beardsley

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in June 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture, and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.

Beardsley has been an active part of NPR's coverage of the two waves of terrorist attacks in Paris and in Brussels. She has also followed the migrant crisis, traveling to meet and report on arriving refugees in Hungary, Austria, Germany, Sweden, and France. She has also travelled to Ukraine, including the flashpoint eastern city of Donetsk, to report on the war there, and to Athens, to follow the Greek debt crisis.

In 2011 Beardsley covered the first Arab Spring revolution in Tunisia, where she witnessed the overthrow of the autocratic President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Since then she has returned to the North African country many times to follow its progress on the road to democracy.

In France, Beardsley covered both 2007 and 2012 French presidential elections. She also reported on the riots in French suburbs in 2005 and the massive student demonstrations in 2006. Beardsley has followed the Tour de France cycling race and been back to her old stomping ground — Kosovo — to report for NPR on three separate occasions.

Prior to moving to Paris, Beardsley worked for three years with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo. She also worked as a television producer for French broadcaster TF1 in Washington, DC and as a staff assistant to Senator Strom Thurmond.

Reporting from France for Beardsley is the fulfillment of a lifelong passion for the French language and culture. At the age of 10 she began learning French by reading the Asterix The Gaul comic book series with her father.

While she came to the field of radio journalism relatively late in her career, Beardsley says her varied background, studies, and travels prepared her for the job as well as any journalism school. "I love reporting on the French because there are so many stereotypes about them that exist in America," she says. "Sometimes it's fun to dispel the false notions and show a different side of the Gallic character. And sometimes the old stereotypes do hold up. But whether Americans love or hate France and the French, they're always interested!"

A native of South Carolina, Beardsley has a Bachelor of Arts in European history and French from Furman University in Greenville, S.C., and a master's degree in International Business from the University of South Carolina.

Beardsley is interested in politics, travel, and observing foreign cultures. Her favorite cities are Paris and Istanbul.

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So the other big news we are following this morning is this.

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"Emmanuel Macron was never a kid like the others," says French journalist Anne Fulda, who has just written a biography about the presidential contender titled Emmanuel Macron, un jeune homme si parfait, translated as "a young man so perfect."

Macron loved to read and existed slightly in his own world, she says. He always felt at ease and mixed easily with adults. Macron's most formative relationship growing up was with his grandmother.

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The French go to the polls Sunday to cast ballots in the first round of a political race like no other in France's recent history: Entrenched politicians have been swept aside, with fringe candidates and untested newcomers filling the void.

After Sunday, the field of 11 presidential candidates will be narrowed down to two contenders, who will face each other in a runoff on May 7.

If Marine Le Pen is elected president of France in May, she says she promises to hold a referendum on leaving the European Union. Her EU-skeptic stance is an unlikely vote-winner in France, where the EU is still very popular. That's especially true in eastern France, near the border with Germany, but even there Le Pen has some supporters.

When Maureen Hargrave, a 71-year-old American who lives in San Diego, wrote an email to the chateau of Versailles in January, she wasn't sure she would hear back.

"I went to the Versailles website," she says, "and pulled down the link, and just wrote, 'On December 16th, 1944, Elsie Hargrave, my aunt, married Michael McKeogh, Eisenhower's aide de camp. She was Eisenhower's driver, and they were married in Marie Antoinette's chapel. Can I come see it, please?' "

It's creeping toward 9 in the evening, but a group of young people is still busy at the National Front party's office in Metz, in eastern France. They're preparing for a rally for their presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen.

Twenty-one-year-old Arnaud de Rigné remembers when he first became interested in the party.

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As Erwan Humbert turns his tractor off and climbs down from the seat, the rumble of a motor gives way to the twittering of birds. The scent of fresh earth fills the air. This baby-faced farmer, with his long, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, used to be an engineer. But the 44-year-old traded in his job in Paris' business district to grow organic vegetables in the countryside.

Humbert says he makes a good living, and most of all, he's happy.

"I might not earn as much as I used to," he says, "but I'm my own boss and now I can listen to the sound of the birds."

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In the southern French city of Toulon, 39-year-old presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is greeted by cheering crowds as he makes his way onstage at a rally. The former investment banker, who served briefly as President Francois Hollande's economy minister, has never been elected to political office. Yet he stands a good chance of becoming the next French president.

This year, the Paris museum that looks like a jumble of giant, colored pipes with an escalator in a clear plastic tube zigzagging up its side turns 40.

Nowadays, that museum — the Pompidou Center — has a secure place in the heart of Paris and in Parisians' hearts. But it wasn't always the case.

The carpeted prayer hall at the grand mosque in the French city of Bordeaux is full on a recent Friday afternoon. Behind a sculpted wooden railing on a small raised pulpit, Tareq Oubrou, a popular imam, is delivering his sermon in French as well as Arabic.

Bilingual sermons are rare in French mosques. Most Muslim clerics in France are foreign and speak in Arabic, which most young French Muslims don't understand. Oubrou says that's one reason why Muslim religious leaders are out of touch with a generation of French Muslims.

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A confident Marine Le Pen strides into a room in her new campaign headquarters, greeting reporters in her signature, husky voice.

The candidate takes a seat in front of a calming blue campaign poster that bears no mention of the National Front party or the Le Pen surname. It says simply, "IN THE NAME OF THE PEOPLE: Marine – President."

On a September day in 1940 while much of Europe was engulfed in war, four teenagers were walking through a forest in southern France when their dog fell down a hole.

As they called for it they heard an echo. Crawling in to rescue the dog, the boys discovered a cave with hundreds of prehistoric animals painted across its walls and ceiling. It turned out to be one of the world's best examples of prehistoric art.

When a political scandal explodes in France, there's a good chance it's Wednesday. That's the day satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchainé hits newsstands.

The fiercely independent weekly, known for its incisive and derisive reporting and more than its share of scoops and bombshells, turns 100 this year.

On a recent fall evening, a youth center in the eastern French city of Strasbourg is full of teenagers, teachers and parents. Everyone has turned out for a discussion and debate about a phenomenon plaguing their community. It isn't failing schools or the lack of jobs, but the fear of young people embracing radical Islam and going off to fight in Syria.

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The humming of 50 washers and dryers is the first sign that things have drastically changed for migrants in Paris. Right next to the washing facility volunteers hand out sweaters and coats to the newly arrived migrants.

One volunteer worker is trying to fit Sadique Ula Malagzai with shoes. The young Afghan wears a flip-flop on one foot and a puffy, white bandage on the other. Malagzai walked to Paris from Italy.

"The shoes hurt me and when I finally took them off my foot was injured," he says.

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STING: (Singing) Roxanne, you don't have to put on the red light.

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There's an expression in French, "Jamais deux sans trois," or "Never two without three." After Brexit and Trump, will Marine Le Pen be next?

France holds its presidential election next spring, and Le Pen, the leader of the country's far-right National Front party, could well be one of the top two candidates in the first round of voting, which would propel her to the second-round runoff in May 2017. But she hasn't been seriously considered as a candidate who could actually become president.

Until now.

Laura Passoni, a 34-year-old mother of two small boys, grew up in a Catholic family in the Belgian town of Charleroi. She converted to Islam at the age of 16 because she says she liked the religion and her best friend was Muslim.

Passoni married a Muslim man and they had a son. Everything was fine, she says — until her marriage collapsed. "My husband met another woman and left me and abandoned his little boy," she says. "And I went into a deep depression."

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